Roller Coaster History
The history of the roller coaster is an amazing story. Who would have thought that Russian ice slides created for Catherine the Great would spawn a child that can be found in countless forms today, providing a release for people the world over? Its history is dramatic, featuring dynamic characters that designed some of the most amazing machines created. Perhaps the thing I love the most about the roller coaster is that it is designed for the masses of people who visit the amusement park. Ever since the first coaster opened its sole purpose has been to let people forget about everything in life and simply enjoy "letting go" for a couple of minutes. It is amazing that these rides have affected so many people in so many different ways. Every time I ride a roller coaster I get the same feeling I felt during my first experience - one of pure euphoria. I hope I can convey a hint of that feeling through my writing.
From a historical standpoint you probably think that this is a very straightforward report that was easy to research and write. I know I felt the same way when I began writing for Ultimate Rollercoaster. After studying American history and all of the historical disputes I thought this would be a simple piece to write. One thing I quickly realized was something told to me by one of my professors, "History is complicated." Even looking at something as simple as the roller coaster, I still found myself delving into a field that had debates among the leading scholars in the field. It was made even more difficult by the fact that there were not a plethora of in-depth sources and that many coaster designers, and even some coasters, have developed a cult of personality around them. Even though the roller coaster is not that old, many legends have sprung up about rides that are hard to prove or disprove because there are so few primary and secondary sources (but we do know the Magnum XL-200 is not sinking!).
The festive evening atmosphere of bright lights at long gone Luna Park located at Coney Island, New York.
As a historian I have brought together some of the best-known sources, like Robert Cartmell's wonderful book, The Incredible Scream Machine, with many lesser-known ones. I tried to create a history that does not preach, but gives you all of the information I found and allows you to make your own decision. Granted, many of my opinions are in here, but be sure to take some of my comments with a grain of salt- everyone is their own historian. I hope you enjoy the history presented here and that it, like the roller coaster, takes you to a world you never thought possible and allows you to forget your surroundings for a few minutes.
If I had to pin down a few inspirations for my love of amusement parks, roller coasters and their history, it would be reduced to four people. First and foremost are my parents who gave me free reign in college, told me to study whatever made me happy and have always supported me. Second are two films by a man named Roy Brashears, "Roller Coaster Weekends One and Two." These films were a man's journey(s) across the country visiting some of America's great amusement parks and featuring footage of parks that are no longer with us. It was here that I first heard about Mountain Park, Lincoln Park, Crystal Beach and scores of other traditional parks that time took from us. Sure they are full of retro music, bad lighting and some bad angles- but these films are some of the closest things to my heart. Also, as a boy who spent a childhood before the internet, the only things I heard & saw about coasters was through Inside Track (gasp). These movies allowed someone who was not old enough to drive see many coasters I had never heard of-all in glorious 8-mm film. These two tapes are two of my most prized possessions.
My last influence was my father's mother, who talked with me about parks when I was 11. I showed her Gary Kyriazi's book, The Great American Amusement Park, which I had borrowed from the library. We spent many hours on the porch and in the car talking about the time she spent during her childhood at Coney Island (New York), Palisades Park and Olympic Park in New Jersey. These talks together helped to fuel my love of history and are some of my best childhood memories.
To help temper the bias I have, here is a little about me so you know where I am coming from.
I enjoy traditional parks a lot; some of my favorites are Canobie Lake, Holiday World and Knoebels Grove.
I really enjoy wooden coasters, some of my favorites are The Legend at Holiday World, Phoenix at Knoebels Amusement Resort, the Giant Dipper at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and in the steel genera some of my favorites are Superman: Ride of Steel at Six Flags New England, Kumba at Busch Gardens Tampa and The Lazer at Dorney Park.
My favorite traditional rides are Flying Skooters (esp. Knoebels & Paramount's Kings Island), The Whip (esp. Whalom Park), the Derby Racer at Cedar Point and Rye Playland and the Knoebels Haunted House.
I hope this helps you realize where I am coming from as a historian, since no one can write an unbiased work of history.
That's all from me, enjoy your ride!
Roller Coaster Historian, Author